Study: TFA teachers raise math scores

Teach for America recruits raised disadvantaged students’ math achievement more than traditionally trained teachers, concludes a Mathematica study for the U.S. Department of Education.

Students of TFA teachers moved from the 27th to the 30th percentile on average. That doesn’t sound like much but it’s the equivalent of two and a half extra months of learning, researchers estimated.

The Mathematica study looked at 45 schools in eight states over two years, 2009-10 and 2010-11. Students were randomly assigned to a TFA-trained math teacher or to a teacher from a different background. (Most of the TFA-trained teachers were in their first or second year of teaching, but about 17 percent were TFA alumni who had three, four or five years of experience.) At the end of each year, students were given standardized math tests and their scores were compared.

Students of inexperienced TFA teachers (with three years or less in the classroom) outperformed students of more experienced comparison teachers, the study found.

Although TFA is often criticized for the fact that its teachers make only a two-year commitment to teaching, the findings suggest that over the long term, continuing to fill a position with TFA teachers who depart after a few years would lead to higher student math achievement than filling the same position with a non-TFA teacher who would remain in the position and accumulate more teaching experience.

Another alternative route to teaching, the Teaching Fellows program, also was analyzed. “Inexperienced Teaching Fellows teachers . . . were more effective than inexperienced comparison teachers; among teachers with more experience, there was no difference in effectiveness between Teaching Fellows and comparison teachers.”

While TFA and Teaching Fellows recruit from elite colleges, “college selectivity is not a magic cure-all,” points out Dana Goldstein.

 Teachers here who attended selective institutions did not outperform other teachers, regardless of whether or not they participated in TFA or the Teaching Fellows. That finding is in line with  new data from New York City new data from New York City linking student achievement back to the colleges teachers attended. In that study, NYU and Columbia grads were not significantly more effective than graduates of Hofstra or CUNY.

Traditional teachers were more likely than TFA or Teaching Fellows teachers to have majored in math. However, TFAers and Fellows earned higher standardized test scores in math. Higher teacher test scores correlate with slightly better outcomes at the high school level, but not at the middle school level, researchers found.

Goldstein speculates that TFA teachers perform well because they’re “incredibly mission-driven,” believe they can close the achievement gap, choose to teach in low-income schools and work very hard. In addition, TFA’s training emphasizes tracking student outcomes and raising standardized test scores.

California suspends accountability

The shift to Common Core standards has given California’s powerful education unions an opportunity to undo the state’s testing-and-accountability reforms, writes Dan Walters, a Sacramento Bee columnist. The unions never liked testing, comparing schools on the basis of test scores (primarily) and, especially, using test scores to evaluate teachers.

A bill backed by the unions, their perpetual ally, state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson, and Gov. Jerry Brown would suspend almost all academic testing immediately and then, the sponsors say, reinstate it in alignment with Common Core in a couple of years.

. . . everything that stems from testing and that the unions dislike would also be suspended and, it’s widely believed, be quietly killed.

Could California abandon statewide testing for good? Or just kill the Academic Performance Index and teacher evaluation plans?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan threatened to cut off tens of billions of dollars in federal aid in a last-ditch attempt to block the bill. ”No one wants to over-test, but if you are going to support all students’ achievement, you need to know how all students are doing,” Duncan wrote.

The bill’s backers shrugged off the threat and passed the bill, which Gov. Brown plans to sign.

Failing to measure and inform parents about how well their child is doing in school for an entire academic year is absolutely the wrong approach,” said Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat on the Education Committee, in a statement.

Jerry Brown to California’s Children: I Don’t Care About Your Futures is RiShawn Biddle’s headline on Dropout Nation.

It seems inevitable that the switch to new standards and new exams will make test data unreliable and disrupt state accountability systems. Wait to evaluate teachers until there’s enough data from Common Core-aligned tests to do it right, recommends a RAND analyst.

Duncan fails to block state testing law

California will scrap its state testing system to field-test new exams linked to Common Core Standards. That means schools won’t be held accountable for students’ progress and parents won’t see how their children are doing.

The Los Angeles will have to defer plans “to use student test scores to evaluate teachers,” notes the Los Angeles Times. “Such performance reviews would be impossible because the results could not be compared to previous years.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan threatened to withhold federal funds, but legislators ignored him, reports EdSource Today.

Veteran education watchers in California could not recall a presidential cabinet officer ever attempting to block state legislation and certainly not in the heavy handed way U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attempted to do on Monday night.

In an extraordinary move, Duncan issued an after-hours statement in an effort to head off a vote by the California Legislature the next day on Assembly Bill 484. The bill calls for administering field tests tied to the Common Core State Standards this spring in place of the California Standards Tests in math and English that have have been a fixture on the California education landscape for 15 years.

California won’t “look in the rear view mirror with outdated tests, no matter how it sits with officials in Washington,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

Under AB 484,  only the high school exit exam and science tests in three grades, required by federal law, would survive.

It could be three to five years before the state reintroduces an Algebra I or Geometry test, creating a big gap in information on student achievement in those and other subjects.

Students in districts offering the field test would get either the math or English language arts part of the test, not both. Because the new test must be taken on computers, districts that don’t have enough computers wouldn’t participate in the pilot.

Common Core will limit calculator use

New tests linked to Common Core standards will limit the use of calculators on math tests, according to the Hechinger Report. It’s likely calculators will be banned for tests in grades 3 to 5. At sixth grade and above, calculators could be used in some sections, but not in others.

Those rules “are sure to influence regular classroom use of calculators, from the elementary ban to the ways increasingly sophisticated calculator use is assumed at the secondary level.”

“The old saw is, teach to the test, and that’s the reality,” said W. Gary Martin, a professor of math education at Auburn University in Auburn, Ala. “If [students] can’t use a calculator on the test, it’s effectively banished from the classroom.”

On the other hand, Mr. Martin and others praised the PARCC guidelines for high school, which call for the use of an online graphing calculator with comparable functionality to a Texas Instruments TI-84, a popular calculator in high schools.

Students often rely too heavily on calculators, said Brad Findell, the associate director of math-teacher-education programs at Ohio State University. The calculator “on” and “off” sections at grades 6 and above “represents a reasonable middle ground that potentially . . .  can bring us to a better place where students end up being thoughtful,” he added.

How to measure preschool quality

Advocates for preschool always say they want “high-quality” preschool. Preschool quality can be measured, but not the way states are trying to do it, writes Daniel Willingham. Most have adopted Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRISs) that measure inputs, such as class size and teachers’ education, rather than looking at what children are learning.

QRIS scores don’t predict student learning, concludes a new study published in Science.

It takes a trained observer in the classroom to evaluate quality, writes Willingham. That costs a lot more than counting inputs. The Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), which evaluates interactions between teacher and child, is a good — but not cheap — measure of quality, he writes. (It’s labeled “interactions” in this graph.)


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Sara Mead has more on the problems with QRIS and the need to observe what’s actually going on in preschool classrooms.

Washington D.C. charter preschools and pre-K programs will be evaluated on reading and math scores, writes Sam Chaltain.

Just to clarify: we’re talking about three-, four-, and five-year-olds. Being Tested. In Reading and Math. With High Stakes attached for the schools that care for them.

Universal preschool is nearly a reality in D.C., where 88 percent of 3- and 4-year-old children are enrolled in preschool programs and at an expense of nearly $15,000 per child.

Math and reading will count for 60 to 80 percent of a school’s rating. If schools “opt-in” to adding a measure of social and emotional growth, it will count for 15 percent of the score for preschool and pre-K and 10 percent for kindergarten.

Charters already are using these assessments, responds Scott Pearson, who chairs the D.C. Public Charters School Board. “Many school leaders are reluctant to have significant portions of an evaluation of their school be based on an assessment of their students’ social and emotional development” because valid measures haven’t been well-established, he writes.

Early childhood programs routinely assess children without them realizing it’s a “test,” Chaltain writes. But these assessments have high stakes attached. Charters need a high ranking to raise money, acquire facilities and recruit families. They’ll be pressured to concentrate on raising reading and math scores.

Feds end ’2% rule’ for disabled students

Disabled students won’t be counted as proficient — unless they’re really meeting college and career readiness standards, under  new regulations proposed by the U.S. Education Department. Currently, the “2 percent rule” lets states count up to 2 percent of disabled test-takers as proficient, regardless of their achievement levels.

“We have to expect the very best from our students and tell the truth about student performance, to prepare them for college and career,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “That means no longer allowing the achievement of students with disabilities to be measured by these alternate assessments aligned to modified achievement standards.”

Being honest about students’ achievement is a good thing, but educators will be embittered — even more so — if they’re held to impossible standards. Students with disabilities achieve more when expectations are high, but — even with the best teaching in the world — many won’t able to meet standards linked to college readiness. (“Career” is thrown in there, but there are no lower career-ready standards.)

ACT: College hopes rise, scores fall

Most students aren’t ready for college, according to the latest ACT college readiness report. The composite score dropped to 20.9 in 2013, the lowest in eight years. That’s probably because more students — including less-capable students — are taking the exam.

Only 26 percent of test-takers in the class of 13 met all four readiness benchmarks in English (grammar, sentence structure, organization, rhetorical skills), reading, science and math; 39 percent met three of the four and nearly one-third did not meet any.

Twelve states are testing more than 90 percent of seniors, including students who don’t plan to go to college. Also, for the first time, disabled students with testing accommodations, such as extended time, were included in the overall reporting numbers.

College-readiness benchmarks were developed by ACT to predict whether a student has a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher or a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher in a typical first-year college course. Students this year did best in English, with 64 percent achieving the standard. Forty-four percent met it in both reading and math, and 36 percent hit the benchmark in science.

This year, ACT moved the reading benchmark up 1 point to 22 and science down 1 point to 23 to match expectations for performance at a national sample of colleges.

Common Core standards? What’s that?

Sixty-two percent of Americans haven’t heard of the new Common Core standards adopted in 45 states and the District of Columbia, according to the new Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll. Of those who recognized the term, “most had major misconceptions about the standards and believed that they will have no effect or will make American students less competitive with their peers across the world,” reports the Washington Post.

As in previous polls, most gave the nation’s public schools a C grade,while rating their local school as an A or B.

Nearly 70 percent of Americans favor charter schools, up from less than 40 percent 11 years ago. However, support for vouchers hit an all-time low.

People were sharply split on closing underenrolled neighborhood schools to save money, a strategy that has made headlines recently in cities including Washington, Chicago and Philadelphia. Half of all respondents opposed such a policy; opposition was higher among those who were not white.

As lawmakers struggle to reach a compromise on comprehensive immigration reform, more than half of the poll’s respondents — 55 percent — said they opposed providing free public education to children of people who are in the country illegally.

The majority of those polled believe that testing hasn’t improved public school performance; nearly 60 percent opposed using test scores to evaluate teachers.

That contradicts a new poll for the Joyce Foundation by Associated Press and NORC, which found that 60 percent of parents support using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. The AP-NORC poll also found that most parents think standardized tests are an effective measure of their children’s performance and school quality, reports the Post.

Support for homeschooling is strong: Most say homeschooled students should be allowed to attend public school part-time and participate in athletics.

Parents: Set goals, measure, fix

Parents strongly support standards, assessment and evaluation writes Suzanne Tacheny Kuback in an e-mail discussion on Mike Petrilli’s “problem with proficiency” post. She describes parent focus groups conducted by PIE Network.

Standards, assessment, and evaluation don’t make sense to parents as separate concepts:  to the extent they think about these things at all, it’s just stuff that they assume you do to manage sensibly. (Set goals, measure them, talk about how well you did, and then fix stuff that didn’t work.) Not only would it not make sense to parents to suggest not doing these things, parents are incredulous when they think that any of it isn’t already common practice.

Most intriguing, “standards” don’t even make sense to parents as an idea unless you measure them. I wished we’d videoed those moments in the conversations: if you suggested having standards but no common tests, parents got mad. They literally pushed chairs back from the table or threw pens down to make their point: “You can’t say you have a standard if you don’t also measure it.”

Parents are concerned about excessive testing, but they want the information, Kubach wrotes.  It’s not that they don’t trust teachers.  ”They just want to know how their kids are doing and value the objective information they get from tests.”

Parents back teachers, reforms

Parents believe teachers are doing a good job, but they also strongly support teacher-quality reforms, according to a new Joyce Foundation survey on parents’ attitudes on the quality of education.

While those surveyed said teachers  should be supported and paid more, they also wanted to use multiple measures, including student achievement growth, in teacher evaluation, compensation, and lay-off decisions. Parents also want “to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom and provide financial rewards to help teachers succeed.”

While only half of the parents say they’re familiar with Common Core standards, they overwhelmingly believe the new standards will improve education, the survey found.

Minority and low-income parents are more likely to see serious problems in their schools—from low expectations to bullying to out-of-date technology and textbooks—than those who are affluent or white,”  Ed Week notes.